Parents’ concerns should be heard, writes MHA
With the House of Assembly sitting again and the provincial government in the midst of the annual pre-budget planning process, this is an ideal time to highlight an important issue for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder and their advocates.
While there are many concerns about deficiencies in the services provided to persons with autism in the education and health care systems, one of the most consistent areas of complaint is the eligibility criteria for accessing Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) home therapy.
The Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) home therapy program is an intensive home-based early intervention program provided to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This behavioural and skill teaching intervention program assists children with autism in meeting targeted developmental goals and is currently pro- vided up to entry into Grade 4 only.
The ABA eligibility cut-off at the end of Grade 3 is entirely arbitrary — in fact, there is ample evidence indicating that ABA therapy can be effective in assisting persons with autism throughout the lifespan. The cut-off is also problematic since in many cases children do not receive the required diagnosis from a pediatrician in a timely manner as a result of assessment waitlists of up to 18 months or more. In these instances, children with autism lose out on the opportunity to access much needed early therapeutic interventions either in part or entirely.
With the situation as it is, parents of children with autism in Newfoundland and Labrador are, in some cases, paying thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to cover the costs of privately delivered ABA therapy and/or travelling outside of the province to access diagnos- tic and therapeutic services. In cases where parents cannot pay for services out of their pockets, children with autism are not receiving timely diagnoses, failing to overcome the developmental challenges associated with autism, and simply missing out.
As it plans for the 2015 budget, the provincial government should take the time to listen to parents’ concerns about the ABA program and find a solution to the unacceptable length of waitlists for pediatric diagnostic assessments. It is also time for government to extend eligibility for the Intensive Applied Behavioural Analysis Program beyond Grade 3. Doing so would greatly benefit children with autism and their families, as well as all of our schools and communities.
— Dale Kirby is the MHA for St. John’s North